New York Red Bulls Head of Sport Kevin Thelwell rejects the idea that his team is in a rebuilding phase following the loss of several key players in the 2019 off-season. Constant contributors and leaders like Bradley Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles, Kemar Lawrence and Michael Amir Murillo have all departed for other clubs either domestically or internationally. Still, Thelwell feels that this team is ready to win now.
"I don't think for one moment that we are in a rebuild at all," said Thelwell during a media conference on Friday. "If I look at the current roster, I think that we are very, very, strong in most positions. I think we've got lots of coverage in most positions. In fact, there's lots of competition for the number one places in the team."
It is understandable why fans may see the current Red Bull situation as a rebuild considering the loss of leadership. This team has been transitioning to appear more like the teams in Europe that rely on younger, more dynamic, players since 2014 and may be on the cusp of achieving that goal in 2020. New York comes into the MLS is Back tournament and one of the youngest clubs but it is the unknown assets that gives many pause.
One of those areas of concern is in the striker position. The transition to a 4-4-2 formation under head coach Chris Armas has seen former winger Daniel Royer transition into a lead striker. Next to him are two unproven commodities in Brian White and Tom Barlow who have shown flashes with New York Red Bulls II but had few chances to do so in MLS. There is also Mathias Jorgensen who has made progress according to the team and could be their first real breakout under the new system.
"Chris and the coaching staff have had a very difficult time over this period because players have been so motivated and so focused on getting better," said Thelwell. "Making sure they are absolutely ready to get going in this team's program. But of course, like any team, you're always wanting to improve. That's going to be a big part of the work going forward."
New York start the season on a positive note with a home win against Cincinnati and a draw on the road against Real Salt Lake. They are hoping to bring that momentum from before the pandemic stoppage into Orlando for their first game against Atlanta on Saturday night.